Bill - I REALLY liked your report! and I've still to see a puffin.
This is actually a trip report, for the island of Runde, mid-north
Norway, for 1st and 2nd of August 2009. However, it raised a few
issues that I'll mention later.
Runde is one of those places that draws birders from around the
world. I'm staying in Bergen for a year, and so it was one of the
things I'd promised myself I was going to do. After all, what
self-respecting birdo would come back from Norway without a Puffin? I
got home from a family holiday in Britain with increasing twitchiness,
as the nesting season on Runde was drawing to a close.
Armed with Internet-located cheap flights and car hire, I left Bergen
airport and arrived at Ålesund 40 minutes later, at about 8:30pm. My
miniscule hire car wasn't available, so I got the larger Ford Focus
instead. The tunnel to Ålesund was closed for maintenance, so the
replacement ferry delayed me. Some tunnels, bridges and ferries later
I arrived at Runde Vandrerhjem (Youth Hostel) a bit after midnight.
The warden was very nice about it, after I'd called him from the first
ferry with the news that I was going to be well after my planned
arrival time of 10:30. There are two major places to stay on Runde,
the vandrerhjem and Goksøyr Camping. The Hostel is very basic, as
many others are, you having to provide your own sheets and pillowslip,
but it's very comfortable, and the morning warden is a good birder.
The camping place looks very nice as well, but was full of Dutch
tourists, making things a little cramped. There are a number of other
private rooms available on Runde as well, if you're desperate.
My itinerary was that I would climb to the plateau on the southern
side of the island in the morning, to get a view of the cliffs and get
the general lie of the land. Then I would take a boat trip around the
island, which would take me through to about 3pm, and then after a
late lunch (in the mainland town of Fosnavåg, as there are no shops on
Runde, apart from cafes) I would climb to the northern end of the island.
The morning's climb was very steep, but the trail was easily visible.
Before leaving the shore, however, I had a good close look at the
Greater Black Backed Gulls, a pair of which were duetting, with a call
that sounds like a cross between a dog and a frog. Also around there
were Magpies, White (pied) Wagtails, Herring Gulls, a Wood Pigeon, a
couple of Wheatears, a Lesser Whitethroat and several Great Skuas
circling high overhead. Rock Pipits were (perhaps not surprisingly)
on the rocks, but I didn't see any Meadow Pipits until higher up,
above the tree line. Barn Swallows were common, a Wren was hanging
around the hedges with a couple of House Sparrows and a Blackbird. On
the rocks themselves were some Shags, hanging their wings out,
Oystercatchers, and some Hooded Crows, but I didn't see Common
Sandpipers anywhere on the island (they're easily seen all round Norway).
On the climb to the plateau I passed through some smallish conifer
copses, and these were inhabited by Robins and Crested Tits. I think
I might have seen a Coal Tit, but it was only fleeting and might have
been a Crested Tit who was feeling a little down in the mouth. The
plateau itself is quite flat and marshy, in stark contrast to the
rocky cliffs on the Western side of the island, and there are even a
few small shallow lakes here and there. At one of these lakes an
immature White Tailed Eagle was wading, but flew a short way away as I
approached. Further along the coast the cliffs began providing
habitat for colonies of Kittiwakes and Gannets, but alas the Fulmars
had already left the island, their breeding season having failed due
to lack of food. I had to hurry back down to catch the boat.
The boat was a fairly typical Norwegian fishing vessel, the "Aquila".
The skipper (I'm not nautical at all, so correct me if I'm wrong)
allowed me onto the boat as a extra passenger, all the seating areas
having been taken (the other passengers were Dutch) so I spent most of
the time on the bow, having wonderful views, but it's lucky I don't
get seasick. We set out around the island in a clockwise direction,
seeing Shags and Great Blackbacks as well as some dolphins and a
single Black Guillemot. As we rounded the Southern tip of the island
we ran into groups of Guillemots and eventually found some rafts of
Puffins. Puffins remind me very much in some ways of Little
Penguins. They disperse for feeding, then gather in large rafts
before venturing ashore to their nest burrows. The Puffins were
fairly wary of the boat, and so we didn't get closer than about 15
metres, which on a rocking boat doesn't really allow good views.
After a while we moved in to the bottom of the cliffs and got close
views of Shags and the Kittiwake colonies. Every few minutes a White
Tailed Eagle would lazily idle past, on the lookout for
opportunities. Further on was the huge Gannet colony, clinging to the
side of the Rundebranden cliffs. The gannets were constantly swirling
above, taking off and landing. I was just wondering how they avoided
collisions when I saw a juvenile clip an adult. There was a squawk,
clearly heard above the background noise, and they continued off,
wobbling and clearly ruffled, but no real harm was done. You never
quite forget the smell of a Gannet colony, either. The rest of the
circumnavigation passed with only Common Tern as additional birds,
although there were several groups of Shags loafing around the
Northern tip of the island. The Fulmar colonies are normally on the
North East side of the island, but these were deserted.
As planned, I had my lunch in Fossnavåg on the mainland, picking up
only Greylags and Grey Heron as a new bird for the day's list.
Fossnavåg is an excellent place for supplies, with several
supermarkets and minibanks (ATMs).
On my return, I began walking from Goksøyr, about half way to the end
of the road on Runde. Parking can be tricky at peak times of the
year, as the end of the road is strictly reserved as a turning bay (a
pity, as it's a good place for birding). The path winds steeply up to
the marshy plateau, and I chose the path that followed the line of
cliffs on the Northern side of the island. From a rock near the top I
sat and watched Great Skuas coming and going from hidden nests in the
grass, and felt as though I had to duck on a few occasions as they
came very close. The boat operator had warned us the they do attack,
and when they do, they don't tickle. Meadow Pipits were, however, the
most common bird in the marsh, but Swifts and Swallows were also
numerous. Time was growing short, so I made my way to the top of the
Gannet colony for my dinner (which somehow didn't taste all that great
- see above comments about Gannet smell.). There's something terribly
impressive about Gannets up close - they're such a handsome bird with
their black wingtips, and their size. Watching, I noticed that the
Gannet chicks were under constant attack from Hooded Crows and Ravens,
Peregrines and White Tailed Eagles. Talk about growing up adversity.
Eventually the sun began to angle downwards in that oddly flat way it
does in high latitudes, so I made my way to the top of the cliff at
Lundeura. A clamber down the top part of the cliff was a little
treacherous in parts, especially at a place where they've put up a
somewhat weathered looking wooden ladder, but a group of about 20
people had gathered with their cameras behind a rope barrier awaiting
the arrival of the Puffins. Again, I was reminded of the Penguin
Parade on Phillip Island. The weather was clear and bright, so the
Puffins stayed out to sea, visible only to the sharp-eyed or those
with binoculars. There are around 100,000 pairs at this colony, so
the rafts were extensive. The previous day was dull, and the birds
had come in just after 8pm. Once again, like Little Penguins,
individuals would approach, flying circling up the side of the cliff,
before making fast passes and returning to the rafts. It wasn't until
well after 9:30 that they began landing, and the people were getting
cold. Typically, birds would land, stand outside for a while, as
though they knew they were on display, before disappearing into their
burrows. Some reappeared and even flew off again. The main bulk of
the colony was lower on the cliffs, and I expect the burrows lower are
more valued, with the energy expenditure of returning from the surface
being lower. After some time admiring these fantastic creatures I
decided to call it a night, and began the trek back to the
vandrerhjem, looking out on the way for attacking Great Skuas, but not
seeing any up close. I think they've learned to nest away from the path.
The next day was spent returning home to Bergen. First the car,
crossing bridges and ferries, and then the aeroplane from Ålesund.
When I returned, I had a look at the receipts. For five ticks
(Puffin, Great Skua, Lesser Whitethroat, Crested Tit, Rock Pipit),
probably three of which I could easily have got elsewhere, I had
shelled out the following:
Car hire: 948.25kr
Ferry from Valderøy to Ålesund: 60kr
Ferry from Sulasundet to Hareid: 84kr
Two nights accommodation: 400kr
Boat trip: 180kr
Ferry from Hareid to Sulasundet: 84kr
Undersea tunnel from Ålesund back to the airport: 60kr
Total: 3313.25kr, about A$750, or between $150 and $375 per bird,
depending on whether you count the species I could have got
elsewhere. Add to this the fact that I'd used a car for two days and
taken two jet trips, which adds to my carbon footprint.
This made me think about the value we place on seeing birds. The
question is, in the grand scheme of things, was my seeing these birds
justified? Is it good enough for me simply to know that there are
birds out there that I decide never to see, or do I have to see them,
and in doing so, release carbon and ultimately harm the birds I love?
What good was done by my trip? Clearly, there was no benefit for the
birds, and none to other humans (unless my family discovers that I'm
less grumpy after the trip, or people REALLY like reading this trip
Excellent maps of Runde including aerial photos are at
A guide to the island and walking, including a map is at
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